When it comes to some of the best villains in television history, there are few that I think top that list. I could talk about Negan from The Walking Dead, or maybe even Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones, but nothing quite hits like Gus Fring from one of the best AMC series, Breaking Bad, and its prequel spinoff, Better Call Saul.
From the moment he appeared on our TV screens, Gus Fring captured our attention and demanded our respect as a TV villain. While not seeming that scary at first, we quickly learned just how threatening of a villain Gus is, and honestly, I’m here to say that he’s truly one of the best TV villains of all time. Here are five reasons why.
First Off, Giancarlo Esposito Was The Perfect Casting
Let me just start off by saying that there are few characters in this world that I believe could never be played by different actors. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, for example, or Alan Rickman as Severus Snape in Harry Potter. Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring is another fantastic example of how an actor is born to play a character.
Esposito has fantastic movies and TV shows, on his resume, including many other villain parts that he plays just as well, but nothing quite beats his portrayal of Gus Fring in both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. The way in which he plays the villain always shakes me to my core, from his easy-going smile to his terrifying moments that always make me quiver in my seat, wondering what his next move is going to be.
There are few TV villains who truly invoke that response in me, but Gus Fring is one of them. And, I am positive that if Giancarlo Esposito was not the one portraying him, I would not have the same reaction.
Gus Can Be Surprisingly Subtle When Intimidating Others
There are sometimes villains in shows who I feel are overly intimidating. Don’t get me wrong, that kind of intimidation works, like for Negan in The Walking Dead. But, for a show like Breaking Bad, we didn’t need a villain who was super intimidating, and we got the perfect bad guy in the form of Gus Fring, who is subtle in the ways he intimidates people.
Gus doesn’t need to be super scary to be intimidating. For example, in one of the latest episodes of Better Call Saul Season 6, “Carrot and Stick,” it’s shown that before Gus even made his big debut in Breaking Bad, he still had just as much power, especially when threatening Mike. He doesn’t even need to be the one holding the gun. He instead just has one of his associates hold it for him while he threatens him from a distance with that calm look on his face. It’s the perfect use of subtle intimidation.
But When He Is Scary, He’s Terrifying
But, that doesn’t mean that Gus isn’t sometimes terrifying to watch.
While Gus himself has been a little more hotheaded in Better Call Saul, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still usually very subtle in the ways in which he threatens and intimidates people. Sometimes, Gus throws out that intimidation tactic, instead leaning towards violence, and we see this in the Breaking Bad episode, “Box Cutter,” during the premiere episode of Season 4.
Gus, who is angered at Walt and Jesse going against his orders, killing Gale, and being all-around disobedient jackasses, comes to their lab, where they think they are going to be killed by him. Instead, Gus pulls a 180, and while still using that calm face of his, he instead slits the throat of the man that had worked on their batch when they were supposed to be working on their batch.
He uses that as a warning to them - that if he’s okay literally killing off his own men, he’ll have no trouble killing them. He is horrifyingly scary in the best way and there’s not another villain who truly frightens me like him.
Fring Is Legitimately Great At Running A Business, Legal Or Otherwise
Let’s be honest - you wanted to try Los Pollos Hermanos from the Breaking Bad universe. I do, too.
Jokes aside, another big reason I love Gus Fring as a villain is that the man is smart. Like, super smart. There are so many moments where you watch villains in TV shows have a lapse of judgment that completely ruins their character, but with Gus, he is so meticulous in every single damn thing he does that you can’t help but have respect for him with the way he runs both his regular business and his drug business.
Los Pollos Hermanos is a completely legitimate restaurant, with workers, normal food, and everything else, that Gus makes sure is always in tip-top shape, but even with that in mind, he still uses his legit business as a front for his illegal operations. That way, no one ever questions what he’s doing.
I mean, there is no way that we, as the audience, had any idea that the man with that yellow shirt and that smile was going to end up being a big baddie when we first saw him in Breaking Bad. And, it’s because he plays the part of a businessman so well that you nearly forget that he can be so scary. I’ll always be sad that they killed his character off before Season 5 of Breaking Bad.
His Backstory Is Fascinating - Even If We Don’t Know Everything
The last thing I want to touch on is Fring’s backstory - most of which we really know nothing about.
Sure, both Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad have sort of touched on aspects of Gus’ backstory, from the time with his partner and trying to pitch to Don Eladio in the “Hermanos” episode of Breaking Bad, to his supposed childhood in Chile when he cultivated a lucuma tree in Season 4's “Piñata” episode of Better Call Saul. But, the prequel has pretty much kept Gus’ past a secret.
And oh my God, thank the lord they did.
Having a character with a mysterious past who is as subtly terrifying and calculating as Gus is was the perfect move, because we never really know how Gus became the way he did. We don’t know if Gus has a family, how he started off seriously in the drug business, who he’s been in contact with - it’s all a mystery left up for the viewer to decide, which is what makes him such a good villain. Because we, in a way, get to paint out how Gus ended up the way he is.
Even with the few bits of his past we do know, it's fascinating, from his feud with Don Eladio to his early moments of violence in his childhood, showing the small little steps that he has taken to get where he is now without revealing too much. He always gives away these teeny tiny bits of info that help us understand his mental process, but other than that, we know nothing else about him. And, that’s just perfect.
Truly, I don’t think there will ever be another TV character, villain or otherwise, who will quite capture my attention like Gus Fring did. From the moment he stepped on that screen, I was enamored with his skillful business style, his calm demeanor, and his scary rage, and no one else will ever quite surpass that. I’ll be sad to see him go once Better Call Saul's very well reviewed season brings the series to an end.
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Big nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire. Will forever hate season eight. Superhero and horror geek. And please don't debate me on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!